Logistical nightmare for chaotic Calcutta

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 13 September, 1997, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 13 September, 1997, 12:00am

Calcutta authorities have been racing against time to arrange security and clean up the city before Mother Teresa's funeral.

Officials have allayed fears the Nobel peace laureate's body could start to decompose through exposure to the extreme heat and humidity.

Now they are grappling with the logistics of coping with an unprecedented VIP flood.

Calcutta, a sprawling, chaotic metropolis of 10 million people, has only two five-star luxury hotels.

The Missionaries of Charity and foreign consulates have fully booked both hotels for their official guests.

Hundreds of local and foreign journalists, including a large number of television crews, have descended on the city, resulting in a scramble for limited hotel vacancies.

Some hotels have quadrupled their prices to cash in on the demand for rooms.

It is a rare opportunity for a city which rarely features on the itineraries of tourists to India.

Tourism infrastructure is poorly developed in Calcutta, which has only 10 air-conditioned buses.

Adding to the crush will be dozens of Indian politicians, and several state governors and chief ministers.

Police, the Army and a special team from the West Bengal Government are co-ordinating security.

With flights in an out of Calcutta's airport fully booked and quality accommodation in short supply, the Indian Government has requested foreign missions fly their official guests to New Delhi.

They would be shuttled between the two cities in a fleet of official aircraft.

But many embassies have declined the invitation, citing security concerns.

Massive traffic snarls are expected today. Many roads will be closed to normal traffic because of the funeral procession and to make way for official convoys to and from the airport.

Ironically, hundreds of street sleepers who depended on Mother Teresa's charity have been cleared from the main thoroughfares for aesthetic and security reasons.